principles: Witherspoon and Everett in The Importance
of Being Earnest.
Importance of Being Earnest
by Oliver Parker
Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy of manners presents us with a
pair of elegant bachelors. Algy (Rupert Everett) is from London,
while Jack (Colin Firth) is from the country. Both are libertines
who construct elaborate lies to further their pursuit of pleasure.
Algy has a fictitious friend whose constant ailments allow
him an escape from both relatives and creditors. Jack has
invented a debauched brother named Ernest whose imagined bad
behavior permits Jack to go to London and raise Cain. In fact,
Algy thinks (at first) that Jack’s name really is Ernest.
Rupert Everett and Colin Firth make an amusing pair. Algy
gets the best lines, and Jack the most interesting action.
Everett delivers the sparkling dialogue with the right note
of cynicism. Firth cleverly makes the Ernest persona the character’s
“real” self, while at home in the country as Jack, he behaves
like a self-righteous prig. It’s a situation perfectly designed
for comedic disaster.
The situation becomes complicated when Jack falls in love
with Algy’s cousin Gwendolyn (Frances O’Connor). She loves
him too, but particularly because his name is Ernest (it sounds,
well, earnest). Things become more complicated when Algy ventures
down to Jack’s estate in the country, presenting himself as
the notorious brother Ernest. Jack’s young ward, Cecily (Reese
Witherspoon), who also has “a girlish fancy” to love a man
named Ernest, is delighted and aroused by the renamed Algy.
Soon thereafter, Jack and Gwendolyn also arrive, and the complications
multiply with dizzying efficiency. Oh, there’s also the icy
Lady Bracknell (Judi Dench), Algy’s aunt and Gwendolyn’s mother,
who arrives with all the pomp and malice of an imperious,
Wilde’s dialogue and carefully crafted play don’t need embellishment,
but director Oliver Parker insists on gilding the lily. To
be fair, most of his ideas work. He opens the play up imaginatively,
moving the action from the drawing room to the bawdy houses
of London and the rolling lawns of a country estate. If his
taste for fantasy ocassionally spills over into excess, there’s
no great harm done. (The musical score is unnecessarily emphatic,
Coproducer Miramax Films casts Dame Judi in their films more
often and with less shame than a fat-cat Hollywood slimeball
would cast a beautiful but talentless lover. Sometimes Dench
is appropriate (Shakespeare in Love), but often as
not she’s just listless Oscar bait (Chocolat). This
time, she’s brilliant. Her Lady Bracknell is earnest—deadly
earnest—to see her nephew marry wealth and her daughter marry
into an equivalent or greater position in society than her
own. She is the steel in Wilde’s light and airy comic construction.
As with any endeavor involving an all-English cast, the supporting
parts are played by overqualified actors. Anna Massey (as
Cecily’s pious tutor, Miss Prism) and recent Oscar nominee
Tom Wilkinson (as the vicar) are very good as an elderly pair
trying desperately to be amorous. Edward Fox has less than
a dozen lines as Lane, Algy’s butler, but he makes an indelible
As in a Shakespearian comedy, all’s well that ends well. Wilde,
possibly amused by the necessity of engineering a happy ending,
makes the mechanisms that bring this about so absurd, even
ridiculous, that they seem almost a parody of Shakespeare’s
notoriously miraculous resolutions. If Oliver Parker can’t
resist one last bit of gratuitous visual whimsy, the director
still captures the essence of Wilde’s great wit and good heart.
Sum of All Fears
by Phil Alden Robinson
Adapted from the Tom Clancy bestseller, The Sum of All
Fears is a geopolitical thriller wound as tightly (if
not as precisely) as a Swiss watch. Directed by Phil Alden
Robinson, this globe-trotting tale of espionage, sabotage
and covert do-goodism takes several decades’ worth of nuclear
peril and spins it into a convoluted but gripping standoff
between America and Russia. Despite its factory-direct dialogue
and phalanx of improbable villains, the film’s convincing
build-up to the (wincingly realistic) bombing of an American
target just might send audiences racing home to check the
latest bulletin from CNN.
Set partly in the corridors of power in the White House and
the Kremlin, Clancy’s scenario centers on the new president
of Russia, Alexander Nimerov (Ciaran Hines). The American
president (James Cromwell) and his advisors are apprehensive
about Nimerov’s hard-line intentions in rebellious Chechnya,
where, unbeknownst to both sides, an old Israeli warhead is
being refitted by terrorists. Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck), who
wrote a think-tank paper on the obscure politico, is brought
in for a debriefing on Nimerov. Ryan’s expertise is tapped
by a sagacious senior official (Morgan Freeman), who recruits
the young analyst to inspect a Russian nuclear plant, where
Jack discovers a nebulous conspiracy hatched by a billionaire
neo-Nazi crackpot (Alan Bates).
Keeping track of who is doing what, and to what purpose, provides
a diversion from the global conspiracy to pit the two superpowers
against each other in a nuclear conflict. The script, coadapted
by Paul Attanasio (Donnie Brasco), works in as many
hot-button issues as possible, from war in the Middle East
to stolen U.S. plutonium to the vulnerability of global digital
communications, with references to biological warfare thrown
in for more nerve-wracking topicality. Robinson, the director
of the technology thriller Sneakers, has a savvy hand
for deploying information and planting leads, and the far-flung
plot advances plausibly by putting Jack in the right place
at the right time for intelligence gathering.
Fans of the three previous Clancy films, however, will be
disoriented to find that Jack—last seen as Harrison Ford’s
mature CIA director in Clear and Present Danger—is
now a young buck falling in love with his future wife, Dr.
Cathy Muller (Bridget Moynahan). Afleck’s brash and inexperienced
agent is meant to precede Alec Baldwin’s renegade Jack in
the first (and best) Clancy movie, 1990’s The Hunt for
Red October, and he follows the wise guidance of
his CIA mentor one minute and impetuously bursts into red-level
meetings the next. Among other disjunctures in the film’s
tone are the switches from grim realism to James Bond-style
insoucience, with the best wisecracking involving Jack’s lethally
gonzo contact in the Ukraine (Leiv Schreiber).
At one point, the constrast between Jack’s derring-do and
Cathy’s efforts in treating evacuated bombing victims gives
unpleasant pause. But mostly, the transnational intrigues
are tensely bolstered by Cromwell’s mediagenic president and
his divisive cabinet, who debate and vaccilate convincingly
as Clancy’s The Sum of All Fears becomes the here and
of a Salesman
by Dan Cohen
This is a film about a man who loves his job too well. Eddie
Miller (Robert Forster) is a wholesale diamond salesman, and
he has been crisscrossing the big towns and small cities of
central Pennsylvania for 30 years. A quiet, conservative man,
Eddie knows the territory and his customers intimately. Eddie
has the salesman’s gift for relating to these small-town businessmen
on a personal level, combined with the meticulous devotion
to detail required when carrying around a million dollars
in wholesale jewelry.
This lifetime of experience is rendered useless by a heart
attack. Eddie instantly becomes an insurance risk too uncertain
to trust with such valuable goods. He has expenses, however,
and needs the good commissions diamond sales bring. This is
why he’s willing to put up with the indignity of training
his own replacement: It will buy him another six weeks on
the road. Bobby (Donnie Wahlberg), the trainee, seems the
direct opposite of Eddie: He’s loud and brash, with more confidence
than brains. Walhlberg, like his brother Mark, has a puppy
dog quality that makes him both likable and wearying, perfect
for the character. This former snack-food salesman thinks
he knows it all, having passed a company-sponsored course
in diamond salesmanship.
Thus, Diamond Men enters familiar cinematic territory.
The two men clash, but there is never much doubt that they
will eventually come to terms with each other. Bobby, whose
womanizing is another of his irritating qualities, even takes
a personal interest in getting Eddie, an ascetic widower,
laid. While this at first seems a bizarre detour, we come
to realize that it really is a big part of what’s wrong with
Eddie: His whole life is his work. Eddie’s eventual romance
with Katie (Bess Armstrong in a gem of a performance) is appealing.
The film works as well as it does because the actors have
a genuine rapport, and because of the verisimilitude of the
script and setting. Writer-director Dan Cohen based Eddie
on his own father, and this world of small jewelry stores
dotting the bucolic Pennsylvania countryside seems real.
Forster is convincing as Eddie, and the film is his showcase.
Forster really looks the part, too: In his sharply tailored
black suits, he could be an undertaker or a gangster. He’s
reserved enough to fade into the background, but you sense
that he can take care of himself when necessary. As Eddie
begins to recognize that his business life is ending, Forster
captures the confusion and wonder of a man coming to terms
Strong on atmosphere, Diamond Men is weak when it comes
to plot. There is corporate intrigue. There is a mysterious
woman named Tina (Jasmine Guy), who runs a whorehouse in Altoona.
Bobby falls for a sleazy hooker with predictably bad results.
None of this adds up to much, but neither does it really detract
from this fine character study.